[eDebate] Harvard -- Octos Judges -- 8am

Dallas Perkins dperkins
Tue Oct 31 09:00:35 CST 2006

I agree with what both Martin and Neil have to say on this subject.  In 
fact, I suspect everyone does.  Martin is clearly correct that the raw 
data from one tournament provide support for only the most guarded of 
conclusions.  Neil is surely correct that the problem is more pervasive 
than one tournament, and is manifest in multiple ways at all tournaments.
I'll just add a couple of comments.

First, the data.  I have the pref sheets from all the elim participants in 
front of me.  Without divulging any confidences, I can assure everyone 
that every team in the elims preferred some women judges very highly. 
Different teams pref different women, but everybody prefs a bunch of 

Second, a concrete explanation of the process.  Those of you who have run 
tournaments using modern tournament management software developed by 
either Edwards or Larson know that the computer makes it very easy to find 
panels that are made up of three A+ judges.  The computer displays each 
judge with their ranks in each round; one need only pick the double-ones 
and assign them.  If one goes through the list of judges and assigns 
mutual A+ judges in each round, it is hard to justify going back and 
messing with it, giving less preferred judges to some of the rounds.

The result is that unlike prelims, where major compromises in both 
preference and mutuality are required to manage the judge pool, the elim 
panels are generally made up of VERY highly and mutually preferred judges. 
This is especially true at major national tournaments such as Wake and 
Harvard, where the national judge pool is very deep with well-known and 
highly popular judges.

Now I'm going to get a little statistical on you.  In a pool divided into 
two groups, where everybody has to judge an assigned number of rounds, the 
two groups will judge their assigned numbers.  That's prelims.  In a pool 
where only the most preferred judges are used, but the two pools are 
equally preferred, both groups should be represented equally on the 
resulting panels.  There might be small anomalous exceptions, but 
generally that would work, even if the two groups were very different in 
size (i.e., more men than women.)

However, consider the situation where one of the two groups was slightly 
more preferred than the other.  Even very slight differences in average 
preference between the two groups could result in very large differences 
in representation on panels, since, as Martin illustrates, either team 
that lowers a woman merely from a rank of A+ to A may effectively remove 
her from consideration in panels consisting only of A+ judges.  Were the 
two groups of equal size to begin with, or if the larger group were the 
one less preferred, the results might not be so shocking.  But when the 
smaller group is less preferred, even by a little bit, it makes it 
possible for them to disappear almost entirely from elim panels.

That's exactly what happenned at Harvard.  There were lots of good women 
judges who were available and relatively highly preferred throughout the 
elims.  Kenda and Greta and the four Sarah's (Topp, Spring, Holbrook, 
Partlow) and Heather and Christine all come up on the screen and could 
easily be fit into rounds, but they are not quite as mutually highly 
preferred as other judges so they don't get assigned.  (Actually, I think 
Greta did judge the quarters.)

Neil asks why people are biased.  I'm not sure.  In my experience, female 
coaches and directors don't make much difference.  I suspect that male 
debaters may have a slight net preference for male judges, although there 
are obviously wide variations.  And I think the "biases" are about more 
than gender.  Teams dis-prefer women because of their views about the 
kritik, or about abortion rights, or conditionality; only one of those 
seems even possibly gender-related, and that not very strongly.  It would 
be interesting to really understand what is going on, but finding out will 
require a different sort of data, perhaps interviews or surveys.

Regardless of the source of the bias, it is also proper to inquire as to 
what might be done.  Two suggestions are obvious.  First is some sort of 
gender-conscious assignment process that prefers highly-preferred women 
over even more highly-preferred men on panels.  Frankly, if Stefan and I 
had taken the time to notice what was going on at Harvard, we might have 
tried to adopt such a plan.  The second suggestion might not be quite so 
obvious.  Elim panels could be made larger.  Had we been forced to put 
five judges in each octa and quarter panel, we would have dipped deeper 
into the pool and selected slightly less-preferred judges, several of whom 
would have been women.

I'm not sure what I think about either of these two ideas.  As to the 
preference for women, I'm worried about all sorts of issues.  There are 
all the generic complaints about affirmative action--does it stigmatize 
those is tries to help, etc.  Also, there are perverse incentives in an 
explicit system of preferences, as teams would rationally react by 
lowering their rankings of women a little bit to offset the tournament's 
pressure to use more women, perhaps striking women altogether to keep the 
tab room from assigning one with whom they are not comfortable for 
whatever reason.

Larger elim panels seem more likely to work.  However, they come with 
their own set of issues.  At most tournaments, judges are anxious to get 
on the road after their teams have lost.  The judges who are still around 
frequently want to work rather than judge, or else they are 
exhausted from working all night and judging all day.  Judges who get a 
round off frequently want to have a beer, or two, and are soon not able to 
judge at their best in later rounds.  Basically, assigning 20 judges in 
quarters rather than 12, is a big imposition on the people who have to do 
the judging.  As tournament directors, we ask for tremendous help and 
support from our judges.  Increasing the numbers by 40% is not an easy 
thing to do.  Nonetheless, I believe if the community understood what is 
at stake, larger elim panels might be supported.  Women judges can help 
out by making it known to tournament directors that they are available and 
willing to judge later on elim day than they might be required by the 
rules, again no small sacrifice on their part.

Effective advocacy training requires that debaters be forced to persuade 
women just as well as men.  While no solution is going to be painless, the 
success of the whole activity requires that we try to make at least some 


More information about the Mailman mailing list